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  • Writer's picture1.5 degrees

Climate's Missed Moment: Why the Paris Agreement has failed

By Lucie J.

Eiffel tower at sunset

In an effort to combat climate change and support a sustainable low carbon future, world leaders from 195 countries came together and adopted the Paris Agreement on December 12, 2015. Very rarely, do nearly all the countries in the world come to a consensus, but in the case of the Paris Agreement, world leaders agreed that climate change is driven by humans and poses a threat to both the environment and all people around the world. It was first drafted and worked on during the two weeks of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties (21COP). The Paris Agreement is the first actual global commitment to combat climate change. In honor of Earth Day, on April 22, 2016, the Paris Agreement opened for signatures.

The central aim of this agreement is to prevent global warming from reaching 2℃ (3.6℉) above pre-industrial levels and to limit the temperature increase from exceeding 1.5℃ (2.7℉). While just half a degree may not sound like much, the effects of allowing the planet to exceed 1.5℃ and reach 2℃ would be devastating. Just half a degree could cause the coral reefs and Arctic sea ice to virtually disappear altogether, cause over 411 million people worldwide to experience water scarcity, expose millions of people to flooding from sea-level rise, and cause global crop yields to decrease.

In order to accomplish this goal of 1.5℃, countries aim to reach the global peak of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), which would hopefully achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions as the level of GHGs declines. Additionally, other articles of the agreement highlight the importance that the fight against climate change is global, not just national. Through the agreement, many countries are obligated to “support the efforts of developing country Parties to build clean, climate-resilient futures…” Another part of the agreement states that the 186 countries responsible for over 90% of global emissions must submit “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). These NDCs summarize each country’s plan to curb emissions. Even with these efforts, 1.5℃ has become a best case scenario in terms of global warming. However, the Paris Agreement can be viewed as a huge step in the right direction.

Mauna Loa Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Despite the efforts of world leaders to act in accordance with the Paris Agreement, the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere continues to rise. As shown by the Keeling Curve, a graph that shows the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere based on daily measurements at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the Paris Agreement has failed to even cause a blip in the steadily rising level of CO2. This is because of a few reasons. For one, the share of global energy supply coming from fossil fuels as of 2017 was 81%. While the popularity of renewable energy has grown recently, renewables are unable to keep up with the demand for energy to support the growing global economy. Because of this, the world is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels for power.

Another reason for the Paris Agreement’s failure is the surge of anti-science beliefs. Many right-wing politicians deny the science of climate change, instead embracing anti-science beliefs and claiming them as parts of their religion. Their beliefs have led to politicians, like Donald Trump, withdrawing or considering withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. In fact, one of the reasons Brazil has struggled to decrease the amount of deforestation in the Amazon is because their president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, has indicated that he means to redouble the destruction. Additionally, whenever public pressure to enforce reductions in carbon emissions starts to become successful, fossil fuel companies, like BP, pour millions of dollars to stop it.

Although the Paris Agreement hasn’t been as successful as originally hoped, it has made some progress and change is being made. However, as stated by Erik Solheim, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme, “... we have a long way to go. The challenge is huge, and if we fail, the consequences for people will be dramatic.” If emissions don’t start declining soon, it may already be too late to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change.


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